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Reading again scored a late goal to take all three points off Sunderland, with two-goal Jimmy Kebe the hero of the day in a 2-1 victory. A late triumph over West Bromwich Albion last month and a brace from Adam Le Fondre in a 2-2 draw against Chelsea in midweek had allowed the Royals to make a great start to 2013 and, thanks to Kebe, that continued at Sunderland’s expense.
Kebe struck twice as the Berkshire club opened up a two-point cushion on the Barclays Premier League bottom three. A first-half Craig Gardner penalty looked for a long time like it would be enough for the Black Cats to claim a point but Martin O’Neill’s side left the Madejski Stadium empty-handed.
Reading took the lead with the first meaningful attack of the game when Jobi McAnuff reached the byline before pulling the ball across to an unmarked Kebe, who controlled well before firing past Simon Mignolet.
The visitors failed to test Adam Federici in the Reading goal until the 24th minute. Alfred N’Diaye brushed off a couple of challenges before shooting low at the Australian, who could only push the ball into the path of the onrushing Sebastian Larsson but Federici was quickly back to his feet to keep out the follow-up.
Sunderland did not have to wait long to be gifted a chance to draw level. Captain John O’Shea was chasing a clearance as Pavel Pogrebnyak slid in and brought the former Manchester United man down inside the area. The foul was missed by referee Lee Mason but not by his assistant Simon Beck and Gardner thumped the resulting penalty past Federici.
Reading almost regained their lead five minutes before the break as Pogrebnyak climbed to head Ian Harte’s free-kick towards goal, only for Mignolet to claw the ball to safety.
It was the home side who returned from the interval as the brighter team with Harte’s low free-kick palmed into the path of Pogrebnyak by Mignolet and the Russian striker crossed towards Alex Pearce, who could not get his header on target.
Pogrebnyak was involved again moments later as his clever touch sent the ball through the legs of his marker and into McAnuff, who was upended by David Vaughan. Harte’s free-kick cracked into the wall as the Royals looked to capitalise on a strong start to the half.
Despite their side being on top in the game the Reading fans soon started to sing for Adam Le Fondre to be introduced from the bench and Brian McDermott obliged, replacing Garath McCleary with the in-form forward. New signing Nick Blackman replaced Pogrebnyak with 15 minutes remaining to partner Le Fondre but it was Adrian Mariappa who almost put Reading back in front.
Another set-piece from Harte led to Mariappa getting in front of his man but his header came back off the crossbar. Sunderland’s debutant Danny Graham was the next player brought on to try to find a winner - but it was N’Diaye who should have given the visitors the lead with just 10 minutes left on the clock, only to fire wide after he had been played in by Adam Johnson down the right flank.
Newcastle United fan Graham almost endeared himself to the Sunderland fans just minutes after coming on but his header was tipped over by Federici. Sunderland were now looking the most likely to score a dramatic winner but Reading have made it their trademark of late and they struck again with five minutes remaining.
Sunderland’s defence could not deal with a Harte free-kick, as the former Republic of Ireland defender thrashed the ball to the back post where Kebe rose to head Reading back in front.
The home side saw out the remainder of the game to move clear of Wigan Athletic and Aston Villa, who could only manage draws in their respective encounters.
Reading manager Brian McDermott: "It was a tough match so we're delighted to get all three points. We started well, we had large amounts of possession against a team with some quality players. We showed real spirit but real quality as well - just look at the ball in from [Ian] Harte for the winner. You know in that situation that Hartey will deliver. He's been doing it for 20 years. We left it late but kept going and as always ‘team’ is the operative word. We had to come back again from the disappointment of the penalty but we put a couple of strikers on and tried to win the game.
"Jimmy [Kebe] has been terrific for me for three years now. He scores goals, makes goals, defends for the team and it was fantastic for him today. We've got a good relationship, I scouted him all those years ago and he's been phenomenal for this club.”
Sunderland manager Martin O'Neill: “We got back into the match after conceding an early goal, a bit like at Wigan. And it was deservedly so with the penalty kick. With 10 minutes to go you thought that if any side was going to win it that it would have been us, then we conceded the goal - a header from two yards out - and it’s hard to take.
“It was a very difficult pitch to play on, but we applied ourselves well considering the conditions and I thought we were creating the better chances. The [Reading] goalkeeper made a fine save to deny Danny Graham late on and Alfred N’Diaye had a chance go wide at the near post. Overall we’ve lost a game with four minutes to go that we shouldn’t have lost.”
|09 Feb 2013||v Stoke (A)|
|23 Feb 2013||v Wigan (H)|
|02 Mar 2013||v Everton (A)|
|09 Mar 2013||v Aston Villa (H)|
|16 Mar 2013||v Man Utd (A)|
|30 Mar 2013||v Arsenal (A)|